What to know before starting a new resistance training workout routine

Whether you work out at home or at the gym, it’s important to commit to resistance training two or three times per week. Here’s what else to know.

You have the option of joining a commercial gym or working out at home and both offer advantages and disadvantages. At a gym, you have machines with easily adjusted weight stacks, plus the movements are fixed. You also have professionals who can teach you the movements and help you craft a workout.

Or, you may choose the convenience of working out at home on your own. I regularly receive questions from readers requesting advice on how to begin.  My response is to simplify resistance training, breaking it down to basics that anyone can apply. Let me add, before beginning any vigorous exercise program, especially resistance training, if you are 35 or older, see your doc for a complete checkup and clearance to participate.

 Start by understanding what the major muscles, or muscle groups, do when they contract. Here are some examples.

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In each movement, there are two phases. Concentric muscle contractions overcome the pull of gravity, whereas eccentric contractions resist gravity. For example, hold a weight in your right hand, bend the elbow and bring the weight up to your chin. This entails a concentric contraction. Next, in an eccentric contraction, you gradually lower the weight back to the starting point by resisting downward momentum (resisting the pull of gravity). Both phases are important and a very strict form in both phases is necessary to promote increased strength and avoid injury.

Resistance training movements are grouped into sets of repetitions. One set may be for 10 reps, followed by a brief rest period, and the second set of 10 reps, and so forth. The number of reps performed per set can vary widely, but the typical range is 10 to 25 reps per set. 

When crafting a workout, experiment to determine how much weight to use for each exercise that fits the number of reps per set you choose (10, 15, 20, etc). The weight should challenge the working muscle and cause fatigue. The key factor for each set is to continue repetitions to the point where you cannot do “one more rep.” As the muscle fatigues, resist the temptation to cheat by bending or swinging the weight. All reps must be highly controlled, slow, and perfectly strict.